Manga Explosion 2011 seems to have calmed down a little, at least for the time being. Still, there is a decent offering of things to choose from this week if you’re looking for something new to read, such as new Oh! My Goddess, Sergeant Frog, .hack/sign GU, or Negima Neo. Frankly, most of them seem to be the tail end of TokyoPop’s pre-slated releases, so be sure to whip out a hankie and shed a tear for horrible business models as that ship finally sets sail and heads out into the waning sunset. Done? Yeah, me too.
But the weekly squee goes to a Del Ray book you might have heard of: Air Gear, the super exciting and off-the-wall shonen manga by Ito “Oh!Great” Ogure that takes inline skating and blows it out of the water. If the name sounds familiar, you’ll probably recall that very recently we got the new Viz imprint of his other famous title, Tenjho Tenge, which vanished when DC nixed their CMX label a while ago. Frankly the re-release is a shining example of what manga in the States should be like: easy to hold, and printed with coloured pages and accurate translations that are more honest to the original Japanese text (rather than being dumbed down and severely edited for the sake of localization, as had been the case with the CMX versions). In particular Tenjho Tenge is well known for its rather graphic nature, featuring both brutal violence and steamy sexy-sexy time. Still though, this essentially distinguishes the book as a mature title that younger readers should probably avoid.
The use of such themes is not gratuitous in the sense that Oh!Great-sensei utilizes them for the sake of character development and plot. Having said that, a background in hentai probably doesn’t hurt when it comes to Oh!Great delivering on those!
But Air Gear takes the Tenjho Tenge formula and bumps it up to the next level. Both are very character-driven stories that revolve around defeating opponents to get to the top and be the very best (your standard shounen fare, yadda, yadda, yadda), except that Air Gear features a unique plot gimmick that sets it apart from most other battle manga. Instead of just throwing punches and kicks at each other, the characters of Air Gear are all skate kids who are into the latest sidewalk evolution, “air trekking,” which is basically roller blading on wheels tricked out with motors, suspension and shock absorption to allow the skater the ability to pop the craziest moves you ever saw. Instead of throwing down and snapping at each other while singing, the various skater gangs in Air Gear compete to become the king of a particular school of skating, usually attributed to a particular element that influences their best tricks.
And as usual, it stands to reason that I’ll give my seal of approval to Oh!Great for his incredible art. His characters are definitely stylized with typical manga proportions, but his drawing is solid where it counts: his drawings are tight and full of dynamic action poses and great expressions. There are very few shortcuts taken in his manga, which is always refreshing to see, especially amongst a lot of the newer stuff that has come out as of late. Expect lots of distinctive characters and detailed backgrounds and props that will dazzle your eyes and leave you begging for more once you plow through all eighteen English volumes in one sitting.